Duke Energy told North Carolina law makers Tuesday that it would cost up to $10 billion and could take 30 years to remove all the company’s coal ash from areas near rivers and lakes across the state.
In a hearing called specifically to address the coal ash basins, Duke’s North Carolina President Paul Newton told law makers the company needed flexibility to find faster and less costlier alternatives to ensure its ash won’t contaminate bodies of water.
The 33 unlined dumps the company uses across the state to store more than 100 million tons of ash from plants that use coal to generate electricity have been the subject of scrutiny since 36,000 tons spilled into the Dan River near the Virginia border in February. State environmental officials say chemicals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium are seeping from all sites and contaminating ground water.
Regardless of how the company handles the ash basins, treatment costs could be paid by the utility’s electricity users, if the North Carolina Utilities Commission allows the company to increase rates, Newton said.
"The North Carolina Utilities Commission and the South Carolina Public Service Commission are the right bodies to answer that question," Newton said.
One financial analyst told Bloomberg News that customers -- not Duke, a publicly traded company -- should pay to relocate the coal ash. "It really shouldn’t come out of shareholders pockets except to the extent that the company has done something wrong," said Kit Konolige, an analyst with BGC Partners LP in New York.
Excavating the ash and removing it from the reservoirs can take different amounts of time depending on the location, Newton said in his presentation. At the Dan River site, which holds 1.2 million tons, it would take a dump truck leaving every three minutes, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week about two years to remove the ash. At the Marshall Steam Station, which holds 22 million tons and is on Lake Norman near Charlotte, it would take 30 years.
Instead, the company is proposing that regulators allow them to remove the ash from some sites, and drain the water from other basins and cover the ash with a synthetic material so it doesn’t get wet and doesn’t seep into the groundwater. The plans would take at least three years and would cost up to $2.5 billion.
The North Carolina Sierra Club asked law makers to require Duke to stop disposing of wet coal ash, to close the 33 dumps and remove the ash to dry storage away from water, and to give a criteria for the order in which the dumps will be closed.
“Coal ash is a can that has been kicked down the road for far too long,” Molly Diggins, the Sierra Club’s North Carolina president, told law makers. “The Dan River spill was a terrible disaster, but it’s opened all our eyes to the reality that we need to deal with our state’s coal ash problem now.”